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BBC News Front Page | World | In depth | Northern Ireland

The search for peace
Good Friday Agreement
April, 1998
Profiles Themes
• Gerry Adams
• David Ervine
• John Hume
• Martin McGuinness
• Seamus Mallon
• Ian Paisley
• David Trimble

• Republican splinter threat
• Loyalist splinter threat
• Decommissioning
• Prisoner release
Good Friday Agreement
• IRA ceasefire
• Loyalist ceasefire
• Peace talks

• DUP
• PUP
• SDLP
• Sinn Fein
• UUP

Events Parties and paramilitaries
Piece together the puzzle of the Northern Ireland conflict by clicking the related subjects above.


• Bertie Ahern, Irish Prime Minister
• Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein
• Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister
• John Hume, SDLP
• Ian Paisley, DUP



• Good Friday Agreement
• Northern Ireland Office: Implementing the Good Friday Agreement
• Full Assembly election results

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Good Friday Agreement
Woman passes a mural advocating the Agreement

The Good Friday Agreement was little short of an historic breakthrough. The 65-page document, signed in 1998, sought to address relationships within Northern Ireland; between Northern Ireland and the Republic; and between both parts of Ireland and England, Scotland and Wales.

The process, however, was gruelling. The Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble insisted that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair amend the agreement to ensure that no one in the proposed Northern Ireland Assembly could take office if it had links to paramilitary groups still engaged in violence. Mr Blair refused to make amendments but offered an assurance that politicians linked to paramilitaries who refused to hand over weapons would not hold office in a Northern Ireland government. He also promised decommissioning would have to begin immediately after the Assembly came into being.

In the end, the Ulster Unionist, SDLP and Sinn Fein leadership welcomed the agreement. But the DUP leader Ian Paisley called it "more treacherous" than the Sunningdale Agreement where the UK government established the first powersharing executive two decades earlier. Several Unionist MPs also defected from the party to oppose the Agreement.

The final Agreement was posted to every household in Northern Ireland and put to a referendum on May 22. A referendum was also held in the Irish Republic.

The result was overwhelmingly in favour of the Agreement: 71.2% of people in Northern Ireland and 94.39% in the Republic voted Yes to accepting the Agreement.

An Assembly was elected in September that year. The Ulster Unionists won the largest share of the vote and 28 seats. The SDLP took 24 and Sinn Fein won 18.

If the process required to reach the agreement was gruelling, implementing the details has been far more tortuous. It is, indeed too early in its life to say whether the document marks a final break from the past. But almost every aspect of the agreement has caused controversy of varying degreees between the parties.

The release of paramilitary prisoners was the first aspect to dominate the headlines. For nationalists, reform of the RUC - or lack of it as some would have it - has been among the most important issues.

For unionists, the real issue was decommissioning - but the obligations placed upon the parties in this aspect were disputed almost from the moment that the ink dried.

Throughout the first three years of the agreement's implementation, unionists accused republicans of failing to live up to the spirit of the agreement's requirement for the decommissioning of arms. On the other hand, Sinn Fein accused the British government of failing to demilitarise quickly enough. It added that it could not force anyone to give up arms and that the agreement only stated that the parties should use all their power to influence the process.

One this was clear throughout all these negotiations - neither the British or Irish governments were willing to countenance any renegotiation of the package. In the words of Prime Minister Tony Blair, the agreement "is the only show in town".

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